Playwright: John Patrick Shanley
Director: Aaron Schmookler
Producer: Gold From Straw
Dates: May 20 – June 6, 2010

Diving into “Doubt”
JOE IZENMAN – The Volcano
May 19, 2010

With John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt, newly founded Tacoma theater company Gold From Straw jumps directly into the deep end of the theatrical pool. Doubt is carefully designed to raise questions and avoid answers. The audience is permitted to come to their own conclusions, if they wish, but that is not the intent.

We are meant simply to know that we do not know, to wallow in our lack of certainty and to understand that how things seem does not dictate how things are. The characters, in turn, embrace, hide, foster, force and ignore the pervasive uncertainty of their lives.

Doubt is also a play for actors. It is a testament not just to the cast involved but the nature of the script that all four roles in the recent film adaptation garnered Oscar nominations. Each member in any production of the play is given an opportunity to stretch into difficult material.

School principal Sister Aloysius, portrayed by Marilyn Bennett, seeks – from word one – to drive doubts into others, in pursuit of her own ends. Her subordinates need not share her confidence, but merely suffer enough uncertainty that Aloysius may be drawn toward these ends.

This dynamic is at the forefront with Aloysius’s subordinate, Sister James – played by Deya Ozburn – and is the crux of the production, superseding the growing distrust and enmity between the elder nun and her nemesis, Scott C. Brown’s conflicted Father Flyn. Brown is left unfortunately to establish his character largely in solo scenes with a non-existent supporting cast, and to play a foil for the relationship of the nuns in their scenes together.

Bennett’s Aloysius is hard and exacting, precise in her diction – there is nary an apostrophe to be heard in her speech throughout – and quite content to “take a step away from God” in the pursuit of her convictions. Content, but not happy – an emotion she only seems to vaguely cling to in the convent garden.

Sister Aloysius takes such steps with every dig into the certainty and confidence of Sister James. When Ozburn’s James first takes the stage, we see a committed nun full of excitement. There is a joy in her voice and step that is picked apart immediately, and with great efficiency.

It is difficult to imagine this show working as well as it does in a larger space. The descent of Sister James from joyful young teacher to worry-ridden tool of her superior’s piercing belief is etched in Ozburn’s face as thoroughly as on her voice, and the intimacy of the seating allows the audience to experience this with her.

Aloysius finds her truest counter in Mrs. Muller, mother to the unseen young student whose relationship with Flyn drives the plot. Ieisha McIntyre’s portrayal of Mrs. Muller in her brief scene is wrought with the struggling nature of a mother who not only recognizes but clings to her own doubts, willing to grant their benefit to anyone who will make her son’s life the slightest bit easier.

With this first show, director and producer Aaron Schmookler’s company is still finding its feet. The current space, a cavernous unfinished floor of the doomed condo project at the Mecca, suffers from poor sight lines, poor lighting positions, and poor placement of an unfortunate plumbing pipe over one section of the audience.

It speaks to the quality of the performances that only the occasional flush from the last of those problems succeeded in breaking my attention.

Feet will come with time, but this debut production of Doubt provides more than enough legs for a start.

Published on February 18, 2011 at 4:09 pm  Leave a Comment  

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